Every gearhead looking for the best value for their money knows that the best place to look is in the Japanese Domestic market. It’s undeniable that JDM cars offer some of the best performances in the automotive industry and are aesthetically pleasing. Also, besides their high-performance stats, most JDMs are among the most affordable Japanese cars on the market – “ordinary people” can afford them. Additionally, they are available everywhere across the globe.
Updated April 2023: JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) cars have a reputation for being both affordable and fun to drive. From the legendary Mitsubishi Eclipse GTX to the nimble Mazda MX-5 Miata, there are many JDM cars that offer a thrilling driving experience without breaking the bank. This updated list explores some of the best JDM cars that are both cheap and a blast to drive.
So, who’s looking for an affordable car that’s still a blast to drive? The JDM cars featured here are among the best. They are aesthetically great, perform like the Italian beauties everyone dreams of owning, and cost less than $15,000.
15 1st-Gen Mitsubishi 3000GT – $11,994
Certainly one of the most underrated Japanese cars from the 1990s that everyone dreams of owning, the 3000GT provides all the thrills offered by expensive sports cars. Besides the powerful performance, the first gen 3000GT is a unique sports car that could easily sell for $30,000, if not more.
Some of the most powerful models came with a twin-turbo V6, but these are a little more expensive. One of the more interesting things to note about the Mitsubishi is that it came in a four-wheel drive layout, despite the exterior and general styling suggesting otherwise.
14 Honda Beat – $4,900
Kei cars are among the most exciting vehicles money can buy. Honda Beat was among the most famous and fun-to-drive Kei cars of its time. The Beat is a JDM icon that successfully proves that small cars can be fun and exciting. While it was only available in Japan, the Beat is now a popular import option for enthusiasts in the United States.
Under the hood of the Beat was a tiny 660cc inline-three engine with 63 hp. The engine had Honda’s multi-throttle responsive engine control system and a 5-speed manual transmission. While it was a little remarkable car with an impressive design, it was also the last car that Soichiro Honda approved before his demise.
13 Nissan 300ZX Z32 – $13,500
A JDM list would be incomplete without at least one model of the Nissan Z series. And one of the best of them all is the 300ZX Z32. This is the more popular second rendition of the 300ZX and arguably one of the most accomplished Japanese sports cars ever made.
Excellent styling, comfortable seating, top-tier handling, and a reasonable price of around $13,000 make the 300ZX one of the best classic sports cars today. Like the 3000GT, more expensive models will have twin-turbo engine options. However, for price-conscious buyers, a non-turbo version still provides plenty of typical rear-wheel drive sports car handling with few drawbacks over more expensive variants.
12 Suzuki Alto Works – $5,600
Despite slightly resembling the Renault 5, the Suzuki Alto Works was a two-door Kei hatchback with a turbocharged three-cylinder engine and 63 hp.
Like most Kei cars, the powerplant could easily produce more power with the right tunes. The Alto Works was the fastest version of its lineup and rather fun to drive.
11 Mazda RX-8 – $8,575
The Mazda RX-8 is one of the most underrated Japanese sports cars in history. Its older sibling, the RX-7, is a legend in the world of small sports cars. And this probably makes the RX-8 appear like an underachiever, but it is not.
The RX-8 is an affordable JDM with the spirit to offer a thrilling experience. A 2006 model, powered by a competitively powerful 1.3-liter Rotary engine rated between 212 and 232hp, sells for just $8,500. The Mazda RX-8 is good for decent power output and fuel efficiency.
10 2nd-Gen Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX – $11,000
Instantly recognizable to Fast and Furious fans, potential JDM enthusiasts can rest easy after finding out just how cheap a 2nd Gen Mitsubishi Eclipse is. A 1996 model could easily sell for only $11,000. Despite its screen popularity, the Eclipse GSX is one of the most affordable JDM classics on the market. The car features timeless styling and an array of inline-four engines.
And in true Mitsubishi fashion, four-wheel-drive layout. This last feature is exclusive to the GSX model, and as it utilizes the same platform as the Mitsubishi EVO, it should be fairly obvious that the Eclipse grips the tarmac like few others at this price point.
9 Mitsubishi Pajero Mini – $8,000
While the U.S. was experiencing the rise of SUVs in the 90s, Japan’s mini-SUV market was booming. The mini-SUVs were diminutive off-roaders that never made it to the United States. One of the best examples was the Mitsubishi Pajero Mini.
Mitsubishi launched it to capitalize on the success of the full-size Pajero, also known as the Montero in the U.S. However, the Pajero Mini was only available in Japan. Like most Kei cars of the time, the Pajero Mini had a tiny 659 cc turbocharged engine, producing 63 hp and 72 lb-ft of torque.
8 MK II Toyota MR2 – $14,300
Given the general inexpensive nature of all generations of MR2, it’s possible to get almost any for a good price. Perhaps the most revered is the MK II model; this MR2’s unique selling point is its mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout. It’s the Japanese Ferrari.
Of course, as no MR2 ever exceeded 250hp from the factory, it would never rival any Italian sports cars on the straights. However, this layout at this price is very rare, so its agile handling makes the MR2 a real driver’s car. And it sells for only around $14,000.
7 3rd-Gen Acura Integra – $10,832
The third-generation Acura Integra was available from 1994 to 2001. It has been a popular mid-range JDM sports car for years. Its more powerful model, the Type R, is the best JDM anyone could ever want. Unfortunately, getting a Type R at this point is nearly impossible. A 1994 Acura Integra sells at an average price of $11,000.
The regular Integra models still provide almost identical styling and a great performance – they don’t compromise speed and thrills for the price, despite the lower power output. For buyers looking for an exceptional ride, any model year of the 3rd generation Integra is a perfect buy. A 2001 model sells for an average price of $25,407.
6 Suzuki Cappuccino – $8,200
Japan is one of the countries capable of creating pocket-sized vehicles that are fun to drive. While Mazda is famous for creating the legendary Miata, Suzuki had the Cappuccino. It was smaller than the MX-5 Miata, making a humble sports car with huge levels of fun.
The Cappuccino proved that a fun car wasn’t all about big displacement or more horsepower. Instead, it was a small, potent Kei car whose main rival was the Honda Beat. Under its hood was a 657cc engine producing 63 hp.
5 Nissan 350Z – $12,500
It’s a bit of a mystery why the 350Z is so lowly priced. Along with the Mazda RX-8, the Nissan350Z is one of the newest cars on this list. Its final model was released in 2008. When Nissan released the 370Z, it marketed it as a GT car, confusing enthusiasts for quite some time.
If anything, the 350Z is a Japanese muscle car. It fits the description better than anything else coming from the land of the rising sun. The powerful 3.5-liter V6 and well-mannered manual 6-speed gearbox conclude the story.
4 4th-Gen Toyota Celica – $8,791
The 4th Gen Celica is perhaps one that flew under the radar a little, but at $8,791, it’s an absolute steal and a better driver’s car than many competitors. The Celica has some famous rally heritage, something few other cars on this list can claim. This knowledge only assures buyers of the Celicas’ well-made chassis and great handling.
The styling also clearly indicates the period this particular model of Toyota comes from, the mid-80s as one of the less obvious, not to mention cheapest, options in this list; the Celica for sure has an element of surprise backing it.
3 1st-Gen Mazda MX-5 Miata – $8,400
In stark contrast to the Celica, the MX-5 was sure to feature in this list somewhere for obvious reasons. As the undisputed king of the small roadster, the MX-5 has been copied hundreds of times, but no one has captured the magic that makes this car so great.
Very few cars in the world come close to being near perfect, but the Mazda combines affordability, exotic stylish, great feeling, and fuel efficiency. Because of the lightweight build and small engine, the MX-5 glides through bends and uses up very little fuel, resulting in the best of both worlds.
2 Toyota Sera – $10,750
Toyota designed the Sera when the Japanese automotive industry was at its peak. It was a supermini coupe that was in production from 1990 to 1995. Unlike its rivals, the Sera had expressive gullwing doors that made it look advanced.
Under its hood was a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with 107 hp and 97 lb-ft of torque. During this time, the engine was the biggest Toyota E Series motor and also found its way into the Starlet and Paseo. The Sera sent power to the front wheels using a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission.
1 MK III Toyota Supra – $10,600
The Supra may be a household name, but few realize it costs less than $15,000 to drive one. Naturally, with the MK IV Supra reaching a truly unprecedented value, most normal Supra fans may have to look elsewhere.
Before the days of Fast and Furious, the MK III was considered one of the best sports cars of the 1980s. With a good power output, good handling, and an excellent platform for modification, the MK III may scratch that Supra itch for some while providing a great entry into the world of car modifications.